If you had asked me five years ago if I was creative, I would have said ‘no.’ Because I’m not, nor have I ever been, artistic. I’ll never forget the time I took a watercolor class with my mom after a bad breakup (that might be the saddest sentence ever), and when learning how to paint rocks, my instructor couldn’t stifle her laughter at how phallic mine looked. I can’t draw, paint, I hate DIY projects, I just didn’t believe this made me creative. But I thrived on other’s artistic nature. I’ve always been an aesthete, but I never correlated that with being creative. I had also worked with a lot of creatives, often justifying to myself, “they have the creative brain and I have the logistical brain.” I didn’t understand you could have both.
I attribute finding my creative confidence to Taylor. She was the first person I worked with in a professional capacity who encouraged creativity as self-care. I think that’s what made all the difference. Because before working with Taylor, I either assumed you were a creative person, or you weren’t. You were a “visionary” or you were an “integrator.” But the lines are actually so much less defined than that, especially in this day and age when we’re all required to be creative in so many different avenues. I talk often about my love/hate relationship with social media, but I do think social media can help to positively foster creativity. Think of all the things you may never have tried with social media and the blogging world—DIY projects, new recipes, interior design, etc. It all stems from creativity.
Ever since starting to utilize creativity as self-care, I’ve started dabbling in my own “artistic” endeavors. Photography and floral arranging have become two of my favorite ways to spend my time. If you’re like I was, and don’t consider yourself creative, I urge you to keep reading. I hope these little lessons I’ve learned along the way will help inspire your creativity, even if you never thought it was possible.
Tip #1: Stop comparing yourself to anyone else
The first step to tapping your creativity is a little reality check. Unless you were a child prodigy, you can probably expect that you won’t be the next Leonardo da Vinci. As much as we would all love to create such masterpieces, comparing yourself to a master of the medium is fruitless. You can still have a lot of fun with creative projects, even if you never sell it or gain the “artist” label. It’s a great hobby, a way to relax and something that lets you simply enjoy being creative. If you start out by comparing your work to someone who dedicated decades to it, you’ll only find disappointment.
Tip #2: Take a class
While my watercolor career might not be taking off any time soon, I enjoyed learning about what went into the process of creating that particular medium. I think as adults, a lot of us stop considering education as an option because we’re afraid to be bad at something. I mean, I’m over 30 with a family and a career, what kind of self-esteem blow would it be to fail at a pottery wheel class? Which, I did by the way. It was laughable. But even just a few private lessons with a photographer friend and a virtual class with a florist friend have made all the difference in my creative pastimes. It’s OK to not know it all and not be good at everything you try.
Sometimes a little direction can help tremendously. Books and blog tutorials can only go so far in learning and the instruction of a real person may be just the thing you need. Check out what your local art center offers for classes. Community centers and college campuses often offer night classes for beginners as well. You can explore almost any medium, too. From basic drawing or painting to specific techniques like calligraphy or art journaling, it’s a fun way to explore different creative mediums.
Tip #3: Don’t just try something once
Even though I’m a novice, I still look back at old photos or floral arrangements from a year ago and cringe at my skill level. Growth is the main component of the creative process. The key is to pick something that brings you joy, and stick with it. It doesn’t matter how good you are the first time. If you liked doing it, why not keep at it? When you let yourself be creative, the more you think and act creatively, the more creative you become. Like exercising muscles, the more you use them, the stronger they become.
It is natural to judge your work. It is also natural to feel disappointed that your creation isn’t as wonderful as you hoped it would be, or that you’re not getting any better at your craft. But the key is to not let your discontent prevent you from continuing to do the work.
Tip #4: Give yourself permission to create crap
In any creative endeavor, you have to give yourself permission to create crap. There is no way around it. Sometimes you have to write four terrible pages just to discover that you wrote one good sentence in the second paragraph of the third page. Creating something useful and compelling is like being a gold miner. You have to sift through pounds of dirt and rock and silt just to find a speck of gold in the middle of it all. Bits and pieces of genius will find their way to you, if you give yourself permission to let the muse flow.
Tip #5: Be intentional
Creativity needs an intention. A popular misconception about the creative process is that you can just be in a general “creative” state. Real creativity isn’t about coming up with “ah-ha!” moments for random ideas. Instead, to be truly creative, you need to have a direction. You have to ask yourself this question: “What problem am I trying to solve?” Only by knowing the answer to this question can you start flexing your creativity muscles. Oftentimes, the idea of creativity is associated with the ‘Right’ brain, with intuition and imagination. Hence a lot of focus is placed on the ‘Right’ brain when it comes to creativity. But, to get the most out of creativity, you need to utilize both sides of your brain—Right and Left—which means using the analytical and logical part of your brain, too. But creativity has a lot to do with problem solving. So instead of throwing out the ‘Left’ brain, full creativity needs them to work in unison.
At the end of the day, creativity is a skill. It’s not some innate or natural-born talent that some have over others. What this means is that creativity and innovation can be practiced and improved upon systematically. I’ll leave you with these words from Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic:
“You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life. You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree. You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.) You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist. You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons. You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start. You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder . . . Listen, I don’t have all day here, so I’m not going to keep listing fears. It’s a bottomless list, anyhow, and a depressing one. I’ll just wrap up my summary this way: SCARY, SCARY, SCARY. Everything is so goddamn scary. Defending Your Weakness Please understand that the only reason I can speak so authoritatively about fear is that I know it so intimately.”